Journalists in Pakistan critical to state policy issues prone to threats: study

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The media threat matrix in Pakistan is broad and diverse and multiple factors contribute to it but the most important aspect is related to professionalism, including the way of reporting, professional attitudes and mainly the threat perceptions of the media persons.

This was stated in recently released research study ‘Media Safety in Pakistan’. The study is based on an extensive field research and comprehensive case histories of journalists, who were either threatened or killed. It entails interviews with the surviving victims, and victims’ relatives, friends, fellow journalists, employers, and the relevant government officials, etc.

The study finds out that the killed journalists’ threat perception was weak. The journalists belonging to small and local media outlets were more prone to threats. The state and non-state actors both contributed to the threat matrix at the local level. Criminals and militants in small towns and tribal areas mainly threatened journalists affiliated with local publications and media outlets with comparatively less outreach.

According to the study, affiliation with major media outlets, especially in small town and cities, offered some security and those upset by journalists’ coverage do not react to such an extent which can create resentment against them at a national level. However, in major media stations, the journalists who are critical towards policy issues of the state and non-state actors are more prone to threats. Journalists who are considered to be opinion makers or are seen as playing a role in shaping the discourse on an important issue are also likely to face greater threats.

The targeted journalists’ religious and political affiliations had not contributed to the threats they faced. Nonetheless, being a part-time journalist does not shield one from threats; they too were equally prone to threats simply on account of their work as journalists.

The study reveals that in case of the journalists killed, their family members and friends did not know if victims’ media groups had been demanding exclusive reporting from them. In absence of evidence to the contrary, it may be assumed that reporters took risks on their own initiative. That could happen for a number of reasons; first, they were in search of professional excellence. This could also be linked with economic conditions. Second, they were under social, political and ideological compulsions. A sense of social obligation was an important factor in victims’ work as most of them engaged in social activities at some level. Their educational profiles also suggested that they chose journalism under social obligation, to bring change in society and this could be another reason for their inclination towards exclusive reporting.

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